The Digital Divide Is the New Civil Rights Issue in America

My friend Allan Jones gave me this title from a piece that he wrote to describe the inequity of learning in the US. We were thinking about the effects of the PISA report in the US. We were also thinking of places where new ideas and participatory learning are not a part of the program. We have plans to transform education.

The “digital divide” that persists in Internet use is  based on income, education and community means people are not acquiring the digital fluency that is required to operate in to-day’s world.

The part that bothers, us, worries me , is that lots of people who are well connected technologically do not have an awareness of the level of difficulty that others have in reaching technofluency based on connections and awareness.

There is also a level of learning, a depth of knowledge that is lacking in many schools , and learning places.

“To put it quite simply, America is a diverse society in which educational differences have the potential to become a progressively larger source of inequality and social conflict. Many people now recognize that eliminating these differences has become a moral and pragmatic imperative.”

College Board, Reaching the Top(1999)

There is a concern about the status of education in the nation. The recent publication of the  PISA 2009  results have caused a wringing of hands and a contemplation of why the US has declined in education. In minority areas and in underserved areas we have always lived with these kinds of statistics. We are always racing to catch up to whatever is just regular. Broadening engagement is our goal. I was delighted with the US Department of Education Technology Plan. To implement it, however we need assistance. Those of us in minority communities have always been striving to catch up. We never seem to make it.

Rural, urban, distant and compromised describe some of the schools, students adn communities not making use of the Internet. The Internet has gone global in a big way. Here are some interactive ways to share how the web works, resources and the state of and power of the Internet, from the BBC.

What are we talking about? The Web

How the Web Works

Explore this interactive graphic to find out which are the biggest sites on the internet, as measured by the Nielsen company. This feature is part of SuperPower, a season of programs exploring the power of the internet.



Interactive program from the BBC- SuperPower

resources from Superpower

We need support for teachers.

I wrote years ago of the importance of teacher support.

There are many teachers who simply want to help kids as best they can. What is the motivation for the change from chalk and talk to the use of technology as a tool? In American education, the textbook remains the basic unit of instruction. Absorption of its contents tends to be the measure of education. How can we change that? What motivation is there to take on the task of change?

Many teachers and instructors use chalk and talk to convey information. Students are often recipients of instruction rather than active participants in learning. When teachers upset the industrial model, what are the predictable differences? How do we convey to the public the models of this change and the reasons why U.S. education should change?

In the past, even the most dedicated, skilled, and caring educators needed paper, pencils, and books to ensure that their students got the knowledge they needed to succeed in the society they were being prepared for. To succeed in the society of the 21st century, however, today’s students must graduate with more than the memorized knowledge of the past. They must be able to synthesize and analyze information, not just memorize it. Today’s students must learn to think for themselves. And they must be able to adapt to a world in which the only constant is rapid change and the participatory culture is desired by students to be a part of their learning .

Most schoolteachers work largely in isolation from their peers, and many interact with their colleagues only for a few moments each day. In contrast, most other professionals collaborate, exchange information, and develop new skills on a daily basis. But teachers are often in the classroom, where the bell and the loudspeaker or PA system are the most significant technology. Although half of this nation’s schoolteachers use passive video materials for instruction, only a small fraction have access to interactive video, computer networks, or even telephones in the classroom. And these technologies offer opportunities for collaboration in spite of distance.

While computers are a frequent sight in America’s classrooms and training sites, they are often used simply as electronic workbooks. The interactive, high-performance uses of technology that the NII will allow—such as networked teams collaborating to solve real-world problems, retrieving information from electronic libraries, and performing scientific experiments in simulated environments—are all too uncommon in our schools. U.S. schooling is a conservative institution that adopts new practice and technology slowly.

So how do we teachers make the change? We have a variable set of needs: access to hardware, some familiarity and training, on-site permission, and patience and support within the educational setting. The support should hopefully be systemwide and involve all of the layers of funding; parents and community members; and—to effect significant national change—teacher inservice and training. And, finally, time: teachers need time to learn technology, to understand the applications, to synthesize ideas so they can use technology as a tool that will enhance the teaching process. All of these ideas are considered in detail in the NIIAC’s KickStart Project.  This was written years ago, and for many people the world has changed significantly, but there are those still toiling in pre-technology stages.

Here us a simple test for thinking about the level of teacher use of technology. Take the test.

Examples of Need In areas of the US – What about your Neighborhood?


Without ready access to computers, students struggle

Even wealthy Fairfax is forced to contend with a digital divide

Fairfax County , Virginia USA


Teachers describe administrative failings at Dunbar

Her account is one of several that have emerged since Bedford was ousted, less than three years after it was hired  by former Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee to turn around Dunbar. City records show Bedford has been paid $1.2 million this year as part of a three-year contract to overhaul Dunbar and Coolidge high schools. The firm remains in control of Coolidge. of course, Rhee is gone but this was her project.


Private Operators Ousted at Dunbar


There are rural schools in which I have worked that do not welcome the use of the Internet for various and sundry reasons.I have traveled tribal regions with Karen Buller of NITI, in the  Navajo nation and am impressed by the Hogan to the Internet program start. I work with Idit Harel Caperton in West Virginia, so I know the rural challenges. Her example of facilitation of the power of technology.

Lots of good examples of what works can be found at the NASA, National Geographic, NOAA and Edutopia Sites

Case studies , resources, and video are at

Some Programs that work/Projects

I loved this learning experience also.

Scalable Game Design

Our main goal is to bring computer science to middle schools with the ultimate aim of developing a larger IT workforce to address the IT crisis.

Community Outreach for IT

NCWIT’s “Programs-in-a-Box” offer turnkey solutions to pressing issues facing the IT community. Programs-in-a-Box provide all the components necessary for quick and strategic action — right out-of-the-box. Each Box includes instructions, letters, templates, slide presentations, and other resources designed for practical use by IT professionals. Roll over the boxes below to read descriptions and find the one that’s right for you, then click a Box to download and get started.

Power Across Texas

Interactive Sites that Demo Good Use

There are also some groups that are restricted by disability in powerful uses of the Internet because new tools and ways of working are not commonplace, and well known.


/ Curriculum for Computational Thinking

One thought on “The Digital Divide Is the New Civil Rights Issue in America

  1. Thank you, Bonnie, for your excellent summary of the issue and the valuable links to relevant resources. Le me provide some hope for the solving of the issue. We at Emaginjos are working with Bonnie and her team to transform K-12 education ac ross America – all 133,000 schools. Built into that transformation are several elements that directly relate to fixing the equity issue. Below is a summary of those services.

    Educational Equity is more than Digital Equity
    Equity is totally embedded in every element of the program.
    In designing our program, we considered equity as one of the fundamental goals of the program. Some of the obvious manifestations of equity are listed below.
    • Calendar – The longer school day and year level the playing field for students who come from communities or families lacking the resources to support learning through homework or field experiences. Students have immediate support and mentoring to ensure learning opportunities. The longer school day mitigates the advantage/disadvantage of having (or not having) parents who are willing and able to provide academic support.
    • Technology –
    o Classroom technology – Every school and every classroom will have the same modern technology available. The technology will be refreshed every three years.
    o Technology at home – Portable technologies such as laptop computers are available for students to check out and use at home as needed/desired.
    o Recycled technology – The Emaginos model refreshes the technology in the district every three years. The technology being replaced is not obsolete and so it will be refurbished (by students we will train and pay) and made available to a local foundation we will create for distribution to disadvantaged families and local non-profit organizations. The local foundation will determine the criteria for selecting the recipients of the equipment. The only requirement we will place on the award is that the parents must be trained on using the equipment. This will ensure that they are capable of monitoring their children’s usage as well as potentially giving the parents some skills that will provide valuable job opportunities for them.
    • Teacher Quality – The way schools are funded in America leads to many of the best teachers electing to work in the more affluent communities. Poorer communities end up with poorer teachers. We won’t change that. However, in our model, Master Teachers, in order to maintain their master teacher status – and thereby their better pay – would need to mentor, other lower qualified, teachers. Our technical infrastructure will include a wide assortment of social networking and telepresence options in support of remote or virtual mentoring. This would allow master teachers in affluent communities to mentor less qualified teachers in poorer communities. This would not cost the teacher being mentored anything. The mentoring teacher will be compensated as a part of their regular pay as a master teacher.
    • Unlimited access to professional Development – Included in the subscription is access 24/7/365 to professional development resources including everything from on-line courses, peer-group support, mentoring, professional learning communities, blogs and social networks. This also includes training and support for the transition/transformation from their present learning environment to the Emaginos teacher-empowered, student-centered classroom. The longer school year includes many more days for staff development and training.
    • 21st Century Curriculum – All teachers and students will have access to a multidisciplinary project-based, small-group curriculum that integrates Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) into every project – beginning in elementary school.
    • Teacher recruitment – By improving the classroom environment, empowering the teachers, paying them more, and providing a broad range of resources less affluent teachers will be better able to attract and retain better qualified teachers. The student-centered, project-based learning environment allows the teachers to customize the education for every child and thereby keep them all actively engaged in learning. This results in a much more pleasant classroom with fewer disruptions and a minimum of discipline problems. The classroom becomes a pleasant working environment for teachers and students.
    • Wellness and Primary Healthcare – The least expensive and most effective part of America’s healthcare system is what is referred to as primary healthcare. It is the role typically played by the family doctor or general practitioner. Schools used to provide a portion of that service in the form of school nurses. Budget constraints have had a devastating impact on that service. The Emaginos subscription service uses telemedicine systems to provide primary healthcare to every student and teacher in participating schools.(We are planning to offer it as a community-wide service after the school transformation program stabilizes.)
    • Community Center – We intend to restore the local school to its traditional position as the community center for education, athletics, cultural events, business, economic development, athletics, health and wellness, and general community social events. Affluent communities tend to have the resources to support all of these activities, but disadvantaged communities have no place to gather for these activities. In addition to the physical facilities, we will provide social networking services to support community building and service activities.

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